The Bears thought that their big-money signing from the Eagles would fill Matt Nagy’s U or “move TE” role perfectly in Chicago. They were wrong.
They also anticipated their highly-touted second round pick who destroyed a low level of competition in college would step in and play a full, productive season as the new signee’s counterpart. Again, they were wrong.
This year, the Bears are counting on both of those players, who are Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen, respectively, to fulfill their desired roles. Both must become who Ryan Pace thought they were if Chicago’s offense is to reach its full potential.
Here is a complete preview of the Bears’ tight ends.
U: Trey Burton
Y: Adam Shaheen
Backup: Ben Braunecker
Fighting for a spot: Bradley Sowell, Dax Raymond, Ian Bunting
Who?: Ellis Richardson, Jesper Horstead
For a couple years, Burton lived in Zach Ertz‘s shadow and he did enough in limited playing time for multiple opposing teams, including (obviously) Chicago, to take notice. He earned himself a four-year, $32 million contract because he appeared to be a smart, savvy route runner who thrives in the red zone. Also impressive was his ability to make his smaller frame look much bigger with leverage and positioning.
Overall, however, Burton’s numbers and tape were underwhelming in his first year with the Bears. He only produced one more touchdown than he did in Philadelphia and didn’t appear to be the versatile, multi-purpose threat he was advertised as. There were plenty of positives, like a nine-catch, 126-yard game against New England and he stood out with his ability to find soft spots in zone, but Burton needs to be better. And the way his season ended – a mysterious injury that held him out of the playoff game – certainly did not help.
Shaheen flashed potential in his rookie year, on an extremely low amount of targets, and many (including myself) expected a massive leap in Year Two. Those expectations intensified after an excellent training camp and start to preseason, but all hope came to a halt when he injured his ankle in Denver and landed on the IR. When he came back, Bears fans saw an improved blocker but a slow, lumbering non-threat in the receiving game who wasn’t effective at all.
Reports out of OTAs are that the swift Shaheen that earned his “Baby Gronk” nickname is back, but at this point we’ll have to see it to believe it.
Breathing down Shaheen’s neck if he fails to improve is Braunecker, who the coaching staff and Brian Baldinger love very much. His name is penciled in on most of the Bears’ special teams units, in addition to a number of offensive packages that increased throughout last season. Braunecker can back up either Shaheen at Y or Burton at U, and he was the one who took the latter’s place as the de facto starter in the Wild Card round.
Sowell, he of the “Santa’s Sleigh” trick play against the Rams, is a tight end now for reasons probably related to said play. He showed up to training camp looking rather tight end-y, as this photo would indicate.
Bradley Sowell looked pretty svelte today.
— Matt Eurich (@MattEurich) July 26, 2019
Raymond and Bunting are two undrafted rookies who will fight for that last roster spot. Many expected Raymond to be drafted and were thrilled for Chicago when they picked him up. Bunting wasn’t as high-profile as Raymond, but when Mark Helfrich was asked at the Bears’ 100th year celebration convention which UDFA had impressed him the most, his answer was… well, you can probably guess based on context.
Key Training Camp Battle: Who earns the fourth spot?
Burton, Shaheen, and Braunecker are locks for a spot on the Bears’ roster, and typically the team will keep only four. And the race may not even come down to how the players perform; the deciding factor could be which type of player Matt Nagy wants in his fourth tight end.
If they want a blocker who could fill the fullback role if necessary, Sowell probably remains on the team in June. Bunting could overtake him, given Helfrich’s comments and if continues to impress the coaching staff, but Sowell has a clear advantage – he’s played this role in meaningful NFL games. If they prefer a receiving threat, Raymond seems likely to win the job. Whatever happens, this will be an interesting competition.
Keys to Success
1. Execute the creative plays – TE screens, shovel passes, and everything in between. The blocking, quarterbacking, and receiving was done mostly without attention to detail, which derailed efforts to make those plays successful. That has to improve.
2. Stay Healthy – Can’t develop a raw athlete if he’s not on the field to develop.
3. Block – Self-explanatory.
The Bears hope that year two in Matt Nagy’s scheme brings a new, improved Burton and Shaheen. If not, Ryan Pace could very well go shopping for their short and long-term replacements in March and April of 2020